Aug 28, 2009 | 6
It hasn't been the best of times for NASA in recent days. Not only is a presidential panel warning that the space agency will have to dramatically scale back its long-term ambitions if it wishes to stay on budget, but August has been plagued by malfunctions and delays across multiple projects and missions in progress.
A probe known as LCROSS, set to release a spent rocket booster to the moon's surface this fall in a hunt for water ice there, has suffered perhaps the most serious setback. This week, NASA announced that the spacecraft had unexpectedly squandered its fuel in an attempt to maintain its orientation after switching to an alternate attitude sensor.
"Our estimates now are if we pretty much baseline the mission, meaning just accomplish the things that we have to (do) to get the job done with full mission success, we're still in the black on propellant, but not by a lot," LCROSS project manager Daniel Andrews told Spaceflight Now.
Jul 16, 2009
Charles Bolden and Lori Garver, President Barack Obama's selections to lead NASA, were confirmed as administrator and deputy administrator for the space agency, respectively, by the Senate yesterday.
Senator Bill Nelson, a Florida Democrat who knows Bolden from a 1986 space shuttle mission and who has campaigned tirelessly for his flight mate, promised via Twitter that "Charlie will bring back the magic from a time when we rode rockets to the moon." Bolden is "perfect to keep America leading in space, science and technology," Nelson also tweeted.
Jun 26, 2009
The budgetary committee of the U.S. Senate yesterday approved a bill that would give NASA all the money President Obama requested for the agency for fiscal year 2010, undoing a proposed House cut of roughly half a billion dollars.
The House bill slashed funds from the space agency's programs for human exploration, with the chair of the appropriations subcommittee, West Virginia Democrat Alan Mollohan, calling it "a pause, a time-out" while a White House–convened panel chaired by former aerospace executive Norman Augustine reviews NASA's human spaceflight program.
May 19, 2009
From here on out, the Hubble Space Telescope is on its own. Astronaut Megan McArthur released the mighty scope from space shuttle Atlantis's robotic arm at 8:57 A.M. (Eastern Daylight Time) today, marking the likely end of all direct human contact with Hubble.
The shuttle crew performed numerous repairs and upgrades in five spacewalks spanning nearly 37 hours, in the hope of extending the 19-year-old telescope's life for another five to 10 years. The space shuttle program is set to be phased out next year, a move that will leave the U.S. without a manned space-launch system until at least 2015, and another mission to Hubble is not planned.
Apr 16, 2009 | 3
Is NASA flying blind? Former NASA administrator Michael Griffin, who served under President George W. Bush and resigned when President Barack Obama took office, has taken a professorship at the University of Alabama in Huntsville. Griffin will teach mechanical and aerospace engineering in Huntsville, a hub of aerospace activity that is home to NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center. Meanwhile the space agency remains leaderless nearly three months after Griffin's resignation, with associate administrator Christopher Scolese acting as agency chief in an interim capacity.
In an editorial last week, the Orlando Sentinel called for the White House to appoint an administrator for the space agency. "NASA badly needs a leader and a plan," the op-ed said. "The future of the U.S. space program, billions of dollars, and thousands of jobs, depend on it."
Feb 27, 2009 | 11
Pres. Obama's budget proposal for fiscal year 2010 throws White House support behind two of the more controversial NASA plans of the Bush era: retiring the space shuttle in 2010 and returning humans to the moon by 2020.
The shuttle's scheduled phaseout, part of Pres. Bush's 2004 Vision for Space Exploration, is opposed by thousands of people who work at Cape Canaveral or in jobs tied to the shuttle missions as well as lawmakers such as Republican Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas, who don't want the U.S. to rely on Russia for transport to and from the International Space Station. As currently planned, the U.S. will not ready a replacement manned transport system before 2015.
But many in the space community, including the nonprofit Planetary Society, have encouraged NASA to hold fast to the 2010 retirement, citing the orbiter's spotty safety record, outmoded technology and limited reach—shuttle flights can only reach low Earth orbit, leaving the moon, let alone Mars, well out of reach. (The Obama budget leaves the door open for an additional shuttle flight beyond the nine currently scheduled, "if it can safely and affordably be flown by the end of 2010.")
Dec 12, 2008 | 7
NASA Administrator Michael Griffin yesterday denied a newspaper report that he had stonewalled members of President-elect Barack Obama's transition team seeking info on operations at his agency. The Orlando Sentinel, quoting anonymous sources, reported Wednesday that Griffin had failed to cooperate with Obama aides and had instructed civilian space contractors to support the agency's current direction and refrain from discussing other options when contacted by the transition team. Griffin in a written statement said that he was "appalled by any accusations of intimidation" and that he encourages "a free and open exchange of information with the contractor community."
At issue is the future of the planned upgrade to the space shuttle, the Constellation program, which Griffin has been shepherding toward its scheduled 2015 debut. The problem is that the space shuttle is due to be retired in 2010, leaving at least a five-year gap in the U.S.'s ability to independently send astronauts into space, a prospect that some lawmakers, including Republican Texas Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (who represents Houston, a hub for the space industry), find unacceptable.
Aug 18, 2008 | 2
The battle for juicy NASA contracts is heating up as the space shuttle nears retirement in 2010 and work continues on the Constellation program to replace it.
NASA announced on Friday that it's terminating a potentially $745 million contract with Oceaneering International, Inc. of Houston to make new space suits (left) for Constellation, which is supposed to return us to the moon by 2020.
Exploration Systems & Technology, Inc., a competitor for the contract, filed a protest with the Government Accountability Office (GAO) after NASA awarded it on June 12 to Oceaneering.
Jul 18, 2008 | 7
Problems are mounting for the Orion spacecraft that is supposed to replace the retiring space shuttle fleet and carry U.S. astronauts to the moon by 2020. Among the most severe, according to a 117-page internal NASA report posted on Nasawatch.com this week: an $80-million overrun on development of a single motor; a hard-to-open hatch door; and the potential that the stack (craft and Ares 1 rocket) will vibrate itself to pieces during takeoff. Constellation's official launch date for practice flights remains March 2015, but NASA had envisioned a best-case scenario of summer 2013. An agency spokesperson told the Associated Press that in principle a launch could now occur no earlier than August 2014. Some NASA watchers say the setbacks are signs of agency mismanagement, but others say they are par for the course for an attempt to return to the moon in an era of uncertain funding.
Photo credit: Lockheed Martin Corp
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